What happens after the king’s death?

27 02 2016

As far as we know, the king has not passed. Yet an op-ed at the Nikkei Asian Review, by Tim Johnston of the International Crisis Group reads very much like a “pre-obituary,” assessing what happens next.

It will surely anger the regime and the royalists in Bangkok, even if it does repeat some of their propaganda about the ailing monarch. It is an interpretation that includes much that is debatable. That said, it is useful to look forward at a time that will be politically fragile.

Johnson seems to have read some of the academic papers that have claimed that it is “middle class” that has driven opposition to what he calls the “traditionalist elite.”  We’d point out that several of these papers actually confuse low-income supporters of red shirts and allies with the middle class.

That aside, let’s continue with his story, where he observes that the “contradictions inherent in this modern, middle-class country ruled by a traditionalist elite are becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile.” He addresses this issue in the context of monarchy.

Johnston is wrong that “[t]he media were full of daily reports on his condition as the palace took the unprecedented step of inviting the public into its ceremonial hall to sign a book for well-wishers.” The signing of well wishes has been in place for years and the reports in the media were mainly limited to Royal Household Bureau announcements. Yet, he is right that “it is clear his [king’s] health remains in decline.”

Johnston is also wrong to declare that “Thailand has been a sheet anchor of stability in an otherwise turbulent region. The disputes were occasionally bloody, but tended to be tightly focused in Bangkok; although the shock waves often spread out across the country, the unrest had little material effect on ordinary people or investors outside the epicenter.” He’s wrong because it downgrades the impact of years of military dictatorship and American alliance and he’s wrong to ignore the long war in the south and the two decades of countrywide political struggle that revolved around communist insurgency.

He is right that the past 15 years of political conflict “has created the conditions for the sort of class warfare that could suck the nation and the economy even deeper into the mire.”

Johnston is wrong to declare, as if a palace propagandist, that “[f]or years, the king was the bridge that spanned the divisions that emerged. He has not personally intervened in recent disputes beyond giving formal approval to successive governments as they were thrown up by elections or coups, but that has not stopped a variety of players, mostly notably the military, from invoking his name to justify their policies.” This is errant nonsense. Has he not read The King Never Smiles? Has he not read any of the academic literature on the current monarch?

Armed king

He’s also wrong to confuse fact and propaganda about the king’s alleged work and service while ignoring his wealth and power and the impact of palace propaganda, usually taxpayer funded, over many decades.

He is right that “the king and the monarchy are not interchangeable: the man is much more powerful than the institution, and such power is not heritable.”

Johnston may be right that there “will be a vacuum at the heart of a deeply unstable social and political system.” But he can’t have it both ways and say the king isn’t a political player but then have him at the very center of the political system.King and junta

He declares that the “self-appointed defenders of the monarchy, … have an over-riding interest in ensuring that the succession is to their liking, if necessary through the use of force.”

That’s probably true, especially if the draft charter is any guide. Clearly, in that document, the military and the “traditionalist elite” are seeking to establish “independent agencies” to assume the political role played by the king in maintaining an exploitative and conservative social order.

He’s wrong that the junta is a self-appointed defender of the monarchy. These generals have been very close to the palace for many years. That loyalty is what got them to the top.

Johnston is on target when he observes that:

The opposition, cowed but not defeated by the draconian emergency powers the generals have granted themselves, knows it cannot take on the palace, the army and the bureaucracy while that triumvirate can invoke the moral and personal authority of King Bhumibol. Without his mystique, the elite’s forceful defense of a status quo that has repeatedly disenfranchised large swathes of the population risks appearing as naked self-interest.

On the middle class, Johnston notes that the current reign “has seen Thailand become a middle-income nation, with all the implied middle class aspirations for progress. The government’s attempts to force the country to retreat into a sclerotic theme-park version of Thai tradition looks quixotic and baffles those whom it does not anger.”

Yes and no. Much of the middle class is opposed to democratic reform and is supportive of “good people” defined in conservative terms that are as sclerotic as the junta’s view of “real” Thailand.

We also think he’s right to say that:

The king’s death will be followed by a substantial period of mourning, but political tensions will continue to seethe under the surface. How the generals and the bureaucracy handle the inevitable challenges to their power will determine whether Thailand’s post-Bhumibol social contract will be settled by confrontation or negotiation.

He may be right to speculate that the king’s death will trigger a “damaging identity crisis.” For the military,

which is among various institutions to have fetishized the concept of “Thainess,” such an identity crisis could easily look like an existential crisis, inviting an overreaction to criticism that risks ripping the fabric of Thai society in ways that would take years to repair.

We also think he’s right that “millions of ordinary Thais” have “outgrown the political and economic paternalism” of the past. Johnston’s view that “[f]or Thailand to continue to grow socially and economically, the elite needs to relinquish its hold on power and trust ordinary Thais to play an equal role in determining their future as a shared enterprise.”

The question is whether the elite can do that without being pushed and shoved off its trajectory. To be honest, we doubt it. The International Crisis Group should probably expect more crises in Thailand.





Another Bike for Dad victim

24 01 2016

The military regime’s toadies must feel that sufficient time has passed following the bad publicity associated with the deaths in custody of “lese majeste” suspects Suriyan Sujaritpalawong and Prakrom Warunprapha to get back to the case.

The Bangkok Post reports that a “warrant has been issued for the arrest of a former deputy chief of the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) with an alleged link to a high-profile lese majeste case.”

Police Colonel Siwapong Patpongpanit is reportedly facing “charges of negligence of duty in connection with the possession of police radio communication devices.” Police Major Prakrom is said to have requested 100 “radio communication devices.” It isn’t clear if the devices were requested for the Bike for Mom/Bike for Dad events or for duties associated with Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn or something else. (We do know that the prince has plenty of communication devices, with all of his many cars have a multitude of aerials.)

The late Pol Maj Prakrom was said to have “more than 200 radio communication devices…”. That’s a lot of communicating!

The police allege that “Pol Col Siwapong, then the deputy CSD chief, handed over the devices to his fellow officer…”.

He has “been under a police watch for suspected links with a lese majeste network led by celebrity fortune-teller Suriyan…. Pol Col Siwapong was transferred to the Central Investigation Bureau before voluntarily resigning from the police service.”

This report reminds us that Jirawong Wattanathewasilp remains in custody. This is odd given that palace-related “lese majeste” cases have generally been resolved in record time, with the “suspects” pleading guilty and immediately being sentenced.





Updated: The lese majeste black hole

13 12 2015

Pravit Rojanaphruk refers to Thailand as “A Kingdom in Denial.” His op-ed refers to the remarkably “efficient” self- and official censorship of Thailand’s mainstream media on anything that might be interpreted as in any way critical of the monarchy. He argues that this process has been “normalized.”

He adds that the flip-side of repression, censorship and the heavy penalties of lese majeste is the ever more ridiculous official veneration of a now invisible monarch and his dysfunctional family.

Pravit is right. But Thailand under the military dictatorship is bleaker than even he suggests.

As Pravit wrote, the junta had its military and police lese majeste thugs out searching for another “dangerous” Facebook fan who clicked “like” on the “wrong” link. They promise that “hundreds” more could follow, filling the jails with political “opponents.”

An military court has issued an arrest warrant for 25-year-old Thanet Anantawong. He “faces charges of lese majeste, inciting disorder and computer crimes.” Reports say he “shared” the same “infographic detailing the alleged [sic.] web of corruption in the Rajabhakti Park scandal.”

A photo from The Straits TimesIn fact, the corruption has been admitted by General Udomdej Sitabutr. He seems to have disappeared from the headlines as the lese majeste witch hunt takes over.

The police say that Thanet “was among a group of student activists who attempted to visit Rajabhakti Park in Hua Hin on Monday, but were intercepted by military officers.” Those military officers some in uniform and others disguised as “protesters” against the students, are just one part of the junta’s cover-up of military corruption that extends into the palace.

The military say will be taking Thanakorn, a 27 year-old worker, to a military court tomorrow.

The connection between Corruption Park, the military and the palace is said by the junta to involve “the royal institution indirectly because it includes references to Suriyan “Mor Yong” Sucharitpolwong — the well-known fortune teller charged with lese majeste who recently died in military custody.”

This claim that lese majeste is involved is ludicrous. Given that the military junta brought lese majeste charges against Suriyan, then presumably they must also arrest themselves and everyone else involved with the case. This is the lese majeste vortex at work sucking in and destroying “opponents.” It is at work because the junta is covering up its own corruption with the use of lese majeste charges.

The situation is obvious to everyone but the dictatorship holds all the repressive cards.

Thailand is in a lese majeste repression black hole that operates as a dark vortex. It sucks in not just opponents but deforms everything in the country – institutions, civil society, habits and more. This is not a political transformation but a societal deformation in the interests of an oligarchy that protects its capacity to exploit, consuming the country, its people, everything.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that Thanet has been arrested and taken to the deadly military prison at the 11th Military Circle. Social media reports that he was snatched from a hospital bed.





Who got the loot?

24 11 2015

Despite the Army’s claims to the contrary, it seems pretty clear that some at the very top of the Army have made personal fortunes from corrupt activities. In this sense, the relatively small amounts skimmed from the one-billion-baht Rajabhakti Park project are just a part of a long-standing corruption in the military.

As we keep saying, if you look at their assets declarations, almost every single member of the current junta has assets that far exceed what might be expected from their official salaries. No one ever seems to investigate these revelations of “unusual wealth.”

The Rajabhakti Park project offers yet another opportunity to scrutinize the top brass’s capacity for corruption.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[p]ressure is mounting on the army after graft watchdogs signalled they would start an external investigation…”.

The next National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) meeting is going to come under huge pressure to drop this idea. The pressure will come from Generals Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan.

The NACC secretary-general Sansern Poljeak states that the agency “has been gathering facts on the park for the last two weeks.” The NACC may whitewash as well, but that remains unclear at this point.

The NACC is supported by the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) which “will write to the army Tuesday, urging it to let external bodies examine details of the construction of Rajabhakti Park.”

ACT secretary-general Mana Nimitmongkol said “[t]oo little information has been released to the public…”.

Army commander Theerachai Nakvanich has tried to cover up the investigations and has stated that “there was no need for other agencies, including the NACC, to investigate the case…”.

Prawit has mumbled something about the NACC probing the Rajabhakti Park project “if there are grounds for an investigation.” But he was clear that no one should investigate junta member General Udomdej Sitabutr. He stated: “No press briefing is needed. Let the army handle the issue [regarding the press]…”.

In another Bangkok Post report, Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda “has advised the army to spend its budget well, because it is not rich.” Maybe he means not rich enough?

His speech, however, did deem a warning to the junta: “mature adults must possess moral integrity as a safeguard against corrupt practices and any temptation to take advantage of others.”

There seem few such adults in Thailand’s military, police or business sector. Even the palace seems unable to enter adulthood as defined by Prem.





Watch Seripisut

23 11 2015

A couple of days ago, PPT briefly mentioned Seripisut Temiyavet and the military junta’s attack on him for his comments on military corruption.

We think he’s worth watching for a while. In the past, he was often said to be a palace favorite. When the military took over in 2006, Seripisut was made acting and then Police Commissioner and became a member of the junta’s Council for National Security. He was not always “reliable” as police chief and was even accused of lese majeste at one point. His relationship with Prem Tinsulanonda is sometimes described as “good” but he has clashed with the grand old man.

As a story at the Bangkok Post notes, Seripisut is seen to be on the “yellow” side of politics.The story states that he “generally supported the 2014 military coup and government takeover.”

Thus, it seems significant that the military junta has targeted him and that he has responded by challenging “authorities to prove his charges of high-level military corruption are wrong…”. He added, in a speech: “But I will tell you that those military people will never prove me wrong.”

The military regime charges him with sedition for his comments on the Rajabhakti Park project. This project and its acknowledged and then denied corruption is challenging the junta and Seripisut is a target meant to be on the junta’s side. Splits and conflicts are always damaging.





Getting rid of evidence

12 11 2015

The deaths in military custody of lese majeste suspects Prakrom Warunprapha and Suriyan Sujaritpalawong means that evidence of military wrongdoing on the the military’s homage to some monarchs at Rajabhakti Park.

That one of the military men accused in the corruption and royal-linked case – Col Khachachart Boondee – has fled the country also helps the high-level military figures involved and stymies investigations.

Is anyone surprised when yet another person involved has fled? No, no one.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[a]n amulet trader accused of demanding millions of baht of commission fees during the construction of the Rajabhakti Park … has fled the country…”. How convenient is that. He is said to have flown out on a TG flight last Friday. He had already been “interviewed” about the case.

We can’t help but wonder if Jirawong Wattanathewasilp will appear in court today, as scheduled. He’s the ast survivor of the three men arrested for “lese majeste” in mid-October.





Palace lese majeste

9 11 2015

The lese majeste purge is again reaching into the palace. Khaosod has an important report that it states: “Due to Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, this story has been self-censored by Khaosod English.”

While the king has not been seen for weeks and has been ill to the extent of barely being compus mentis, he is said to have issued an order that “has revoked all royal decorations from the deputy commander of the royal household’s bodyguard unit.” This refers to Maj Gen Pisitsak Seniwong na Ayutthaya.Pisitsak

Apparently, this is to remove the royal decorations of a dead man. As reported at Asia Sentinel:

In the latest purge, two top police officials have died mysteriously and a third has disappeared. Major General Phisitsak Seniwong Na Ayutthaya, the prince’s main bodyguard, died in mid-October. Local media have been so terrified by the situation that they have hesitated to name Phisitsak in print. His family was told he had committed suicide by hanging himself with his shirt.

The Khaosod report states that “Pisitsak was fired from the military on Oct. 16, the statement said, the same day police announced a crackdown on individuals accused of exploiting ties to the monarchy.”

The order signed by the king (so they say) and The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, claims that Pisitsak engaged in “gravely evil behavior.” This, according to the government order, amounts to “disobedience to King Bhumibol and his commanding officers and exploiting ties to the Royal Family for his own gain.”

We understand that he had a falling out with the prince. He’s now believed dead. And its seems he is also to be disgraced: “Pisitsak was stripped by royal proclamation of seven decorations awarded to him by the King for his service.”

The report goes on:

“He disobeyed Royal Instructions and refuses to comply with orders from commanding officers,” read a notice in today’s Royal Gazette, which publishes formal government orders. “He falsely claimed to act upon Royal Orders and abused his power in an unlawful way, seeking gains for himself and his clique. He posed a threat to the security of the Institution [the monarchy].”

We understand the “commanding officer” to be Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. He previously ousted members of his body guard. The body guards close to the prince appear to be in a risky profession.

How many more will be purged? How many more will die?








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